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22 Jul, 2015

Do You Suffer From Painful Snow Withdrawal? A Ski Trip Down Under Might Be Just What You Need...

Man doing a handstand in the snow

The summer months can drag a wee bit for us snow lovers. It’s not that we don’t enjoy summer - we do. The annual blast of sunshine evens out the goggle tan quite nicely and, financially speaking, summer is the only time of the year that early booking discounts are in abundance. Even further, not only can you find cheap skiing holidays, but selling your car won’t be necessary in order to buy those brand new pair of skis that have been winking at you for the entire winter.

But, for the powder hounds, living with snow withdrawal just isn't easy. It’s not too long after basking in a glorious spell of sunshine that a familiar itch emerges from somewhere deep within. It starts small, for reasons unknown you catch yourself spontaneously humming the Ski Sunday theme tune – very odd. Next, you start to regularly rock the ski sock/flip-flop combination - much to the bemusement of strangers on the beach.

Your mental state deteriorates rapidly and, eventually, it all gets a little strange. Your overwhelming desire for soft fluffy snow reaches a critical point and you begin to lose all seasonal awareness. Before you know it, you’re clumping around Sainsbury's frozen section on a hot mid-July afternoon in a onesie and a pair of ski boots mouthing ‘whoosh’ noises until you’re politely asked to vacate the premises. Eventually, whilst dragged from the store, you position yourself as if you were clutching a T-Bar. It’s all a tremendously embarrassing series of events.

Alright, so perhaps your summer snow withdrawals aren't quite as severe as my own (which is why you’re probably still welcome to shop at Sainsbury's). But if they are, why not save yourself some embarrassment next summer and alleviate those unbearable withdrawal pangs with a slide in the southern hemisphere. Take a read of this brief low down of one of the most popular ski destinations in the southern hemisphere - New Zealand.

In an ideal world the Alps would be caked head to toe in the snow for 365 days of the year, but alas, they are not. So, reluctantly, the snow-hungry among us are forced to step outside of our cosy comfort zones and travel farther afield to countries like New Zealand and Australia if we insist on a summer fix of slope pounding. Now, for those who have never ventured below the equator for a ski holiday, I do appreciate that the regular conjoining of the words ‘ski’ and ‘field’ does not work wonders for imagery, but don’t let semantics sway you because many of these ski fields really do belong on the international stage and might just exceed your expectations.

New Zealand

‘A truly magical setting with mesmerising views that are guaranteed to stop you dead in your ski tracks time and time again - just one visit is all it takes for New Zealand to capture the heart.’

Upon arrival, as well as experiencing the renowned kiwi charm, hospitality and a somewhat unique sense of humour, it will become immediately apparent that this is a country where the adrenaline junkies of the planet reside. There are a vast array of extreme sports and activities on offer (all of which, it would seem, are carefully designed to help trigger some sort of heart attack). From bungee jumping the notorious Nevis Range to riding the Luge in Queenstown, if exhilaration is what you’re after, NZ has you totally covered. In all honesty, you’ll most likely find that this myriad of off-mountain activity instantly sets NZ apart from other ski locations you’ve experienced placing it in a league of its own for ‘action-packed’ ski holidays with plenty of extreme sports on offer besides snowsports. Oh yeah, and the skiing itself isn't too bad either.

Whilst the North Island has two commercial ski resorts, one of which may I add is home to New Zealand’s only skiable volcano, the south island is where the real skiing’s at and is home to nine commercial ski areas all within easy reach of Queenstown and Christchurch. These include the big boys such as Coronet Peak, Cardrona, The Remarkables and Treble Cone. Mt Hutt, another international favourite, is toward the north of the south island and is easily accessible from Christchurch. The elevation of the top NZ resorts sits between 1800m and about 2100m with an average annual snowfall ranging between 2m to 5.5m with the season running from June to October-ish, depending on conditions.

Usually, June and July are the chilliest months and when you’re most likely to encounter some powder, but the best cover is normally found in peak season - August. Once again, depending on conditions, the lucky can enjoy the NZ snow right through to the end of October, but at this time of the year it’s all luck of the draw so expect conditions to be a little more variable, often ranging from the heavy spring slush to a light fluffy dusting.

Queenstown

Queenstown is a lively place to stay and a firm favourite amongst repeat visitors. This Alpine resort town sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and, perfect for those who are missing the Alps, has lake-meets-mountain views that are extremely reminiscent of parts of the Swiss Alps. Right at the beating heart of New Zealand’s snow culture, Queenstown offers all of the après, dining and unique off snow activities that NZ is renowned for and is more than conveniently located, with four of the best ski fields within an easy driving distance.

Alternatively, you can stay in Wanaka. Wanaka is an hour away from Queenstown, and guess what... Yup, it’s beautiful. Be warned though, Wanaka is a place that may cause the Lord of the Rings soundtrack to play on a loop in your head - quite a pleasant soundtrack to ski to as it happens. At this point it must be said, that a visit to New Zealand is a profound experience for any Lord of The Rings fan - take it from me. And even if you’re not, the scenery might just sway you.

Wanaka should certainly be on your list of places to visit. Accommodating a range of budgets, Wanaka is the closest town to Cardrona Alpine Resort (arguably the best all-round resort in Nz) and can be described as a bit of a mini Queenstown, but perhaps with a toned down buzz and better suited to those wanting a little more moderation when it comes to nightlife and other wild activities.

Brace yourself, because here come some negatives. Needless to say, New Zealand ski fields are significantly smaller than the respective European resorts and you are highly unlikely to clock the mileage you might in, say, France or Austria. You can, therefore, find yourself lapping samey runs due to the absence of extensive terrain. Furthermore, most resorts are seemingly lacking in the advanced infrastructure that you might find in the larger European resorts – the majority only having one rental shop, one ski school and two or three cafes and restaurants.

This season was top notch, but it’s no secret that snow can sometimes be a problem, humorously eluded to in the locals nicknaming of Mt Hutt and Coronet Peak as ‘Mt. Shut’ and ‘Concrete Peak’. Lastly, if you are fond of tree skiing, you might be mildly disappointed, as NZ ski fields are sparse, predominantly made up of wide open bowls. On the bright side, however, these bowls are often uncrowded and lift lines are quite bearable in even the peakiest of peak periods. Additionally, NZ ski fields contain plenty of gentle slopes perfectly suited to the beginners and lower end intermediates, whilst the more proficient skiers and boarders have plenty of off-piste to play in and heli-skiing tours on offer that will take you to Middle Earth - literally.